It’s a ‘cloud first’ world out there and the channel needs to adapt, says Billy MacInnes
18 November 2019 | 0
Cloud is a significant opportunity for partners and solution providers to strengthen client relationships by delivering a more complete offering, perhaps by partnering with a local CSP with access to the full portfolio of a major cloud vendor. An illustration of just the breadth of the opportunity is provided by a recent survey by Equinix which found that 64% of Irish firms expect to move further to the cloud in the coming years.
But it could also represent a threat if partners and solution providers fail to meet customer demand for cloud computing and services – or are too slow getting on board with the shift. So just how prepared are Irish channel partners for the move to cloud and what can they do to boost their capabilities to deliver it to customers? Finally, how big a role will distributors and vendors be expected to play in helping resellers build and deliver those cloud solutions?
Francis O’Haire, group technology director, DataSolutions
“I am seeing differences in readiness for cloud, depending on the type of reseller,” O’Haire tells TechTrade. “Those who have traditionally been more focused on virtualisation or applications seem to be more prepared than those that have a security or networking focus.”
He notes that the distributor’s Citrix and Nutanix partners seem to have already developed cloud expertise and are actively helping customers migrate appropriate services to cloud. On the other hand, while security and networking vendors have products that focus on and deliver tremendous value in cloud, “not all relevant partners are fully prepared to grasp the opportunity to help their customers in these areas”.
So what can be done to boost their capabilities to deliver cloud? In addition to gaining basic skills across the main public cloud platforms, he suggests channel partners take advantage of the training available from existing vendors on their newer cloud aligned products. The majority of technology vendors “have solutions specific to cloud or multi-cloud environments, and are anxious for their partners to take these solutions to market”, O’Haire comments. “Resellers should embrace this trend as vendors are not likely to slow their progress.”
A key element of maintaining their position as trusted advisors, he suggests, is in helping customers advance their digital transformation by utilising cloud as appropriate.
What role does he believe that distributors like DataSolutions and their vendors should play in helping resellers build and deliver cloud solutions?
“In most cases, and certainly in the case of DataSolutions, it is a distributor’s role to be the front line of the enablement of the channel,” he states.
Distributors also need to identify and deliver the technologies “which help partners stay relevant in this changing landscape and help future-proof their business as technology trends evolve”.
For its part, DataSolutions has run a series of sales and technical workshops introducing cloud concepts to resellers who are keen to begin their cloud journey.
“For those that already sell cloud services or products but do not get involved in the security of those services in the cloud, we will have tailored workshops introducing the most relevant and effective technologies to help them deliver a secured full stack solution to their customers,” O’Haire concludes.
Peter Rose, CTO, Tekenable
“There are some really first class providers in the market.” Rose remarks, “but at a recent cloud event we attended it was obvious that the majority of IT service providers are still focused on traditional on-premise solutions and are not at all prepared for cloud.”
Cloud provision is a wide term because it ranges from simple workload migration to moving a physical server to a VM through to re-envisaging applications and using advanced services and techniques such as AI, service management, containerisation. To do it well and to do it properly, requires significant skills, knowledge, expertise and experience. “At the higher end of service provision there is so much to learn and keep pace with, so unless you are well on the way already it will be a huge hill to climb,” he warns.
One of the big approaches that Tekenable is seeing is for service providers to partner with each other. “We provide services to some that do not have sufficient in-house capabilities,” he reveals. “every company has its strengths and it can still be a one stop shop for the customer by partnering with a trusted provider”. That’s often the quickest way to do it.
Trying to deliver cloud services without expertise and experience “will be a disaster for the client. Partners used to a non-cloud model have such a knowledge deficit that overcoming it is going to be a huge problem for them, so partnering is probably the best approach.”
It also helps to hire in expertise although that can be quite difficult and organisations often have to grow it from within. “Good cloud architects are highly in demand. Training, mentoring and meet ups have a place.”
How big a role will distributors and vendors play in helping service providers build and deliver cloud solutions? “We work with a distributor and even though we have been delivering Azure cloud for years it is of great value to us in advising us on upcoming changes, providing access to premium support and occasionally troubleshooting,” Rose says. He adds that the distributor can sometimes recommend Tekenable to another partner.
The company has “also found Microsoft to be very supportive of our business goals with training, certification and FastTrack project teams. I think the distributor and vendor are mandatory supports”.
Simon Sharkey, cloud & hybrid IT practice lead, Logicalis Ireland
While the Irish channel has made significant gains in realising the opportunities associated with cloud, “the overall market opportunity is still very much in its infancy stage”, Sharkey argues. As a result, partners that successfully identify the business critical priorities of their clients and provide technology solutions to help them achieve these objectives will accelerate their growth in the market.
But they need “to realise that the conversation has evolved in a number of ways. Not only have clients’ objectives and challenges changed dramatically in the last few years, but the pool of stakeholders involved in the decision-making process for business technologies and strategies has increased.” Conversations now involve various departments including marketing, finance and sales, so partners “have to meet a new and diverse set of needs and priorities”.
Asked what partners can do to boost their capabilities to deliver cloud to customers, he says that with the opportunities in cloud so vast, they should “concentrate on their key strengths and see how these tie in with potential cloud-based initiatives”. While it “can be tempting to try to conquer all, more often than not, it’s better to be known for being great at some things, rather than alright at everything. This will also help them to establish a real expertise”.
To achieve this goal, it’s important to gain insights from relevant vendors to understand what the demands are within the market. This enables partners to test the viability of the services they are providing and ensure the commercial and operational market requirements can be meet. “Recurring revenue is key so you need to make sure your business is set up to transact in this way and that your target customers have an appetite to consume ICT in this manner,” Sharkey adds.
When it comes to where distributors and vendors fit in, he is very clear that the right distribution partner “plays an integral role in helping resellers scale their businesses”. In addition to helping reduce the operational and financial overhead of setting up a cloud-based services business, the distributor can also provide “advice, training and experience by gaining insights from what they are encountering first-hand and also through other partners”.
As for vendors, they contribute “by providing a wider global perspective and the specific skillsets which support resellers when they require more in-depth expertise in a specific technology function”. Working with distributors and vendors in a collaborative, team-like manner tends to drive the most success, he adds.
Kevin O’Connor, channel manager for Ireland, Equinix
Most resellers have recognised that Irish enterprises are starting to view the cloud, and public clouds in particular, as the key location for their production applications, O’Connor says. As a result they no longer view cloud as the threat which they would have before, and “are now seeing the opportunity and forging partnerships with key cloud service providers and cloud enablers”.
On the other hand, a number of Irish resellers “often revert back to the ‘path of least resistance’ by continuing to sell traditional ICT solutions, such as on-premise physical infrastructure or Capex software licences”. But if they want to boost their cloud capabilities, resellers need “to embrace and promote a ‘cloud first’ agenda at all times – highlighting the need for their customers to make the move to becoming a digital enterprise”. To do so, they need to ensure they have the technologists and architects in place to guide and lead customers on their cloud journey.
One major change is that resellers are recognising their customers are not placing all of their services (and trust) with a single cloud or SaaS offering which means every enterprise will have a multi-cloud requirement, whether by accident or design. “Resellers need to have partnerships in place with platform offerings – such as is possible with Equinix – enabling them to interconnect between a variety of cloud and SaaS applications,” he argues.
Vendors play a crucial role, O’Connor adds, by ensuring resellers have the cloud products, services and tools required. “Vendors must share their cloud roadmap to provide confidence that they are the correct long term partner to work with,” he says.
Fabio Douek, head of cloud architecture, Singlepoint
Douek advances an interesting proposition that customers have higher expectations that are “more aligned with a cloud consumption model. They expect quicker turnaround for provisioning a platform, more flexibility, pay only for what they consume, more agility by leveraging DevOps practices and also to be able to leverage innovative services such as AI and analytics”.
But he notes that a considerable amount of service providers “remained in their comfort zone for a long time” because they had heavily invested in their infrastructure and trained their workforce in on-premise technologies, “which are no longer relevant to cloud-based workloads”. This meant that if customers didn’t have a specific requirement to run a solution in the cloud, solution providers continued to build on top of their legacy infrastructure. They only started to provide cloud services “more recently in a very reactive way”.
In the past, smaller service providers wouldn’t be able to afford the heavy lifting off configuring and managing an entire solution, covering VPNs, databases, firewalls, storage and application stack. “But now they can, and ironically what we’ve seen in the market is that smaller service providers are able to make a much bigger impact than the large players who have been operating for years,” Douek claims.
This is because service providers with a ‘cloud first’ mindset “have embraced full automation of the infrastructure from day one. They don’t waste their time trying to reinvent the wheel, or to implement the solution as it was done 10 years ago”. Instead, they try to find a solution which is the best fit for the customer and that has “required dedication and focus in understanding cloud principles and best practices”.
Service providers that are focused on a cloud first approach are currently doing very well, and that will continue as demand grows, “but the game is not lost for the traditional service providers”. The relationship built up over the years means they have earned the trust of their customers. But they need to see the movement to cloud as an opportunity rather than a treat.
He agrees with Sharkey that partners should “resist the temptation of going in all directions in adopting multiple cloud providers. I would recommend sticking with one or two cloud providers, no more than that.”